This portion of our journey is focused more on the stops we made rather than the travel through places. We landed at La Cruz on Banderas Bay and then cycled to Puerto Vallarta. It was such a crazy change from peaceful horizon to horizon shimmering seas where we would be on watch for hours at night without seeing another boat to crazy eight lanes of busy traffic to get to Puerto Vallarta. It was a bit of a shock for me to say the least. We had two wonderful days in Puerto Vallarta, exploring the cobblestone streets of Old Town and eating tasty food at the numerous restaurants and cafes. We spent most of our days walking, exploring the beach, the happening malecon oceanside promanade and checking out the sights, including the beautiful tiara crowned old cathedral and walking through the little crafts market nestled in the lush jungle on the island in the middle of the river.
As a tourist center, we sampled tequila at the numerous vendors, indulged in dollar margaritas on the beach and even went to a time share presentation. Bryan and I actually love time share presentations because they wine and dine us and then give us some sort of incentive for attending. Our salesperson told us honestly, “We’re here to make a profit but we want to do that by making you happy with these luxurious places.” In my mind, I thought, “These places are definitely nice but we’re really here for the free stuff you give us.” We ate like kings that night, treated to a dinner that was the same price as both nights of our stay in a hotel in Puerto Vallarta.
We left Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara on Dec 23, catching a luxurious deluxe class bus. I find that we actually have to ride the top of the line buses because they have the room to fit our bikes inside. Though we could probably cram them onto a 2nd class bus, which I really don’t mind riding, our bikes would have to lay down flat to fit and then there is the danger of bent wheel spokes if (and when!) stuff is put onto of them. On the 1st class buses, the storage compartment under the bus is big enough for us to put our bikes on upright. The 1st class buses are amazingly luxurious with foot rests, wifi internet sometimes, two bathrooms in the back and even individual touch screen TVs on the back of seats though I still gaze longingly out to the green landscape flying by outside, wishing I was biking.
In Guadalajara, we first stayed with Alexa’s grandparents house in the Centro, near the Sanituario de Guadelupe. Their house is a 300 year old mansion, with delicately decorated walls in an old technique using plaster and horse hair to make gorgeous French Noveau designs and loftly high ceilings, with many open spaces with rooms layed out around gorgeous courtyards. We met up with our bike gang there, a reunion as we had all gone different ways after the beach in Bahia Conception, and tents popped up like mushrooms after a rain on the courtyard roof. We spent three wonderful days exploring historic centro, checking out amazing and provacative murals by Orozco, the numerous markets with delicious tacos and fruit smoothies, visiting old cathedrals and walking down busy pedestrian promenades.
It was great to celebrate Christmas with our cyclist friends and with Alexa’s family. Christmas dinner started long after dark and long after many rounds of tequila. Alexa’s family had set up a large white tent in the main courtyard and there was three rows of tables and chairs to seat all their guests, including Alexa’s numerous cousins, aunts and uncles and of course, 16 of us cyclists! Dinner was served at around 11:30pm and we feasted until 4am!
After Christmas, we didn’t have enough of Guadalajara yet and stayed with WarmShower’s host, Nic, for three more days. Justin, Bryan I went for a wet and wild tour of Guadalajara and its suburbs hopping on and off local buses in the rain in search for a little laptop as our Christmas present to ourselves. We also went on an epic taco tour in our new little neighbourhood just north of centro in Guadalajara. We ate tacos, tamales, churros, deep-fried hot dogs but I think the most exotic was tacos of cow brains! Kinda mushy and flavourless in my opinion.
After Guadalajara, we bused to Toluca on Dec 29 where we were picked up by Erin, Santiago and his dad after finding out the buses to Valle had stopped for the night. Thank you so much! We had to make it into Valle that night because the next day, we were going paragliding! The very next morning, Bryan and I are standing on a mountain above the quaint town of Valle de Bravo overlooking its beautiful lake with Erin, Santiago, Santiago’s sisters Carolina and Valeria, Valeria’s boyfriend Ben, Santiago’s mother Malena, Erin’s sister Hannah and Erin’s dad Tom. The 10 of us are wearing giant diaper-like harnesses that will become great recliner chairs once we’re up in the air. I had some butterflies in my stomach but I was so excited!
For both Bryan and I, this is our first times paragliding! For launching, my instructor, Juan, told me, “The most important thing is that you have to run.” Well I guess the no jumping part is correct! Juan also added another important point, “Are you happy?” Upon me replying yes, he said, “I will keep on asking you that through our trip today because that’s the most important part of the trip.” Prepared by my two instructions, run and have fun, Juan and I got ready to walk off the side of the mountain. We were soon the next ones to launch. Assistants help raise the parachute behind us up and it immediately catches air. Juan tells me to run and I take one step before I am lifted off the ground. We soared over the valley – graceful like a sea bird hanging in the air, floating like a leaf peacefully adrift in a light breeze. That afternoon, we experience another form of wind transport and go sailing on the lake with Santiago’s dad, Alejandro.
Our next day in Valle de Bravo was New Years Eve. We celebrated with some old Mexican traditions, including eating 12 grapes in 12 seconds before New Years, making wishes for the upcoming year, and had some fun original twists to old customs.
There is a practice of gifting coloured underwear for luck in the new year, red coloured ones to find love and yellow to find money.
We ended up having a “Secret-Panty-Santa” where we each put our name into a basket and drew out a name then headed to town to buy a pair of underwear of the giver’s choice. Red or yellow? Love or money? Simple or hilariously scandalous? Since we were all there together, we would try to sneak off on smaller groups or sneakily make quick purchases when others weren’t looking to hide our purchases from the people whose name we drew. We wrapped our scandalous articles of clothing in white napkins, a cheap and available source of gift wrapping but the resulting little white packages looked hilariously like drugs, then stuffed them into the colourful starburst shaped piñata along with candy. We took turns wacking at the piñata, which has a clay pot inside, until Santiago’s little sister, Valeria stuck it with such ferocity that candy and panties came spraying down. For the luck of the colourful underwear to work, you have to be wearing them on the moment of New Years so we each put on the underwear overtop of our own clothes, superman style. It is hilariously ridiculous as people get all different types from more normal styles to the more lacy or exotic in toucan or butterfly patterns. We had a delicious family dinner with all of us wearing our new underwear over our pants, ate grapes on the countdown then cheered and drank champagne for the new year. Afterwards, we went out clubbing and danced until 6am!
The next day, Erin, Santiago and their families left to go back to Mexico City to meet extended family and go wedding dress shopping for Erin. We will continue cycling south from Valle de Bravo but decided to stay an extra day to check out the nearby monarch butterfly sanctuary. Each year, the monarch butterflies migrate from Canada and the United States to these specific locations in Central Mexico and California. We hiked up the steep trail up the mountain to the butterfly grove where monarchs coated the branches in large clumps, turning the green trees orange on appearance. There were millions of butterflies there. The air was alive with fluttering wings and there were so many flying around that there was a buzzing drone of their flight. It was such a magical experience.
Visiting the butterflies turned out to be an all day affair and most of the day walking. We decided to spend another day in Valle resting and finishing up with errands we ment to do yesterday, including restocking our food panniers, some internetting and going to the post office. Also, Santiago’s family ranch in Valle de Bravo is so amazingly gorgeous with peacocks, hilarious turkeys and a friendly pack of dogs that we couldn’t pull ourselves away just yet. One more day… A heartfelt thanks to Alexa and her family for hosting us in Guadalajara and giving us the opportunity to celebrate a Mexican Christmas with all night feasting. Thank you also to Nic, who hosted us in his apartment in Guadalajara and baked us a delicious cheesecake. To Santiago and his family, it has been so amazing to celebrate New Years at your beautiful family ranch in Valle de Bravo meeting both your and Erin’s families. Having fun with New Year customs was hilarious from stuffing grapes in our mouth as we discover that it takes more than one second to chew a grape than the second we’re allotted making wishes on the countdown to our incredible panty piñata. It has been so nice to spend the holidays with family and friends and I cannot express enough the gratitude Bryan and I feel for being welcomed in your celebrations.